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NSAQMD reports Plumas air quality results and smoke impacts for August

It has been an extremely difficult August for the residents of Plumas County, with smoke filled skies a nearly daily occurrence for most days of the month. The towns of Greenville and Canyon Dam were largely consumed by the Dixie Fire, and smoke impacts were felt all over the county, particularly in Chester, where only one day was recorded below the daily standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter for the whole month.

According to the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District (NSAQMD) the Chester air quality monitor went as high as 650 on Friday, August 6 (as the towns of Greenville and Canyon Dam were burned), creating very unhealthy air for residents. A health advisory, issued by NSAQMD in conjunction with public health officials, continued to be extended through the entire month.

Fires certainly started earlier in the year than normal. As a comparison, the Bear and Claremont fires, eventually known as the North Complex, started on August 17, 2020. This year, the Beckwourth Complex fire started at the end of June, followed by the start of the Dixie Fire on July 13. The Dixie Fire has currently burned completely across Plumas County from west to east. Much of the burned area was heavy timber, which produced a large quantity of smoke, and of the monitoring sites, Chester recorded the highest impact of particulate matter over the month.

Due to the Dixie Fire, there were 18 days in August of exceeding the daily National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) of 35 micrograms per cubic meter for particulate matter (PM2.5) in Portola, compared to 14 days over the standard in August 2020 due to the North Complex Fire. There were 16 days over the standard in Quincy and at least 28 days over the standard in Chester (2 days of data missing).

The region is extremely dry.  Live fuel moisture measurements have dropped below critical values in most areas of the region. Widespread drought conditions have led to severe and extreme drought designations in Plumas County.  Significant fire potential is above normal through November then drops to normal in December, per Northern California GACC, 8-26-21.

Levels of PM2.5 in Portola are normally quite low in the summer months, but the last two summers have seen high levels due to wildfire smoke. Graphs submitted by NSAQMD

Shown is a comparison of the three monitoring sites in Plumas County.
There are three monitoring sites in Plumas County (Quincy, Chester and Portola). Only August 1 was barely under the standard for Chester.


This annual wintertime burning curtailment program ran from November 1, 2020 to February 28, 2021.  The program will resume once more on Monday, November 1, 2021.  Long Valley Charter School (LVCS) students and the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District (NSAQMD) raise a flag daily to notify the public of voluntary (yellow flag) and mandatory (orange flag) wood burning restrictions.  A green flag signifies good air quality and no restriction on burning in wood stoves/fireplaces.  During curtailment days (November-February), a wintertime health advisory is issued and a health advisory posted on the District website and on a recorded information line.  From March through September, the colored flags are used when there are smoke impacts from wildfires.  Suggested actions to protect health are described based on the flag color, known as the Air Quality Index (AQI).

For more information on real-time air quality, burn day information, or for smoke complaints and air quality concerns, visit www.myairdistrict.com  or call NSAQMD at 832-0102.


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